Friday, July 24, 2020

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate
Recommended Ages: 10+

Do you remember the last time a book made you cry? Since I just read this book last week, at the end of a week-long vacation, the memory is fresh in my mind. It did it to me twice. The first time was on pp. 111-112, where a dying elephant tells the gorilla in the cage next door, "Ivan, I want you to promise me something," and he says, "I promise, Stella."
"But you haven't even heard what I'm asking yet," she says, and she closes her eyes for a moment.

"I promise anyway."
The promise Ivan, a silverback gorilla who lives in a seedy shopping mall and draws pictures for tourists, has just made is to save a baby elephant named Ruby from having to live the life Stella has lived. He doesn't even have to be asked to know what he's promising to do. Nevertheless, it's a lot to ask of an ape who has been in captivity since he was a baby, and who (unlike an elephant) doesn't remember much about his prior life. Gorillas live in the moment, seldom thinking back, much less forward. The very structure of this book, narrated by Ivan, reflects that: Not so much chapters as topic headings, mostly with a handful of sentences under them. You almost have to piece the story together, the way a little girl named Julia has to piece together Ivan's masterpiece painting – a billboard-sized mosaic of finger-painted scraps of crumpled paper that he has been hiding inside a hollowed-out stuffed animal in his cage – a picture imagining Ruby in a wild animal park with the painstakingly written word "HOME" at the bottom.

I won't spoil the other part that made me cry, but I'll let you in on an amazing secret – there really was a gorilla named Ivan who lived in a mall and whose drawing ability, combined with a public outcry about his plight, led to him being rescued and put in a nice zoo. Zoos are still cages, but like Stella told Ivan, they're the kind of cages where humans make amends for the way animals have been mistreated, and often slaughtered, elsewhere. In this book, Ivan's worries and hopes are tied up in the one way he knows how – just maybe – to communicate with humans that Ruby should be in a zoo. But then he has to face the equally worrying, but also hopeful, prospect of leaving his little plexiglass cage at the mall and becoming the silverback a family of real gorillas needs.

Soon to be released as a Disney movie, this Newbery Medal-winning book now has a sequel, The One and Only Bob. Other titles by this insanely prolific author include standalone novels Home of the Brave, Crenshaw and Wishtree, 45 "Girl Talk" books, 11 "Ocean City" books, 28 "Making Out" teen romances (later repackaged as the "Islanders" series), eight "Summer" ditto, 54 "Animorphs" fantasies (as well as 10 books in three distinct spinoff series), eight installments in the multi-author "Making Waves" series (also teen romances), 12 "Everworld" novels, 14 "Remnants" novels, seven "Roscoe Riley Rules" books, Eve and Adam co-authored with her husband, Michael Grant (a prolific author in his own right), the "Endling" trilogy (whose third book, The Only, lands in March 2021) and the upcoming kids' book, Doggo and Pupper, due for release in April 2021.

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